Decoration Day

Decoration Day May 9, 2011

I read an article recently about a family in Frisco, Texas, who has been tending the grave of a stranger since 1908.  Nancy Elizabeth Higginbotham was a farmer’s wife who moved from Alabama to Frisco with her husband in 1896.  Her life followed the pattern of pioneer women all over the west, cooking, cleaning, tending the garden, – holding life together for her three children after her husband died.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, settlers in covered wagons rolled through Frisco on their way west. Bethel Cemetery, an oak tree-shaded burial ground on a gentle hill, was a favorite resting spot for those early frontier families. Walter Hagood and his wife stopped to await the birth of their baby.  A boy, Walter Hagood Jr., was born October 21, 1908. He died four days later.  Higginbotham offered a grave site for the distraught pioneers’ baby in her family plot.  Days later, as the Hagoods packed up to resume their journey, the baby’s mother sobbed, “My baby’s grave will never have flowers on Decoration Day.”

“Decoration Day” was a custom in the South that, on the second week of each May, families would gather at the town cemetery to clear it of trash, trim grass and weeds, and place flowers on each headstone.

In response to the young mother’s grief, Nancy Higginbotham made a promise: “Don’t you worry. We will see that the grave is decorated every year.”  Thus began a tradition that has lasted four generations.  Higginbotham diligently cared for the baby’s grave for 22 years until she died in 1930.  Then her daughter, Minnie Fisher, continued the ritual until her death in 1964.  Then her daughter-in-law Wilma Fisher accepted the responsibility until her health failed in 2006.  For the past five years Lebanon Masonic Lodge No. 837 of Frisco has been placing flowers at the small headstone.  Said mason David Barnes, “This is just an issue of respect. In today’s fast-paced society, it’s easy to lose sight of our family anchors.” 

At a ceremony at the cemetery, Saturday, May 7, 2011 Nancy Elizabeth Higginbotham’s great-great granddaughters Casey Hicks (15) and Reilley Hicks (13) pledged a life- long commitment to take up the care of the grave. Said Reilley, an eighth grader at Gunner Middle School, “This is a promise made by my family and I’m not going to be the one to break it.” 

Nancy’s grandson Jasper Fisher, now 88, is the only one left who remembers his grandmother. But the whole family remembers that promise she made in 1908. It has come to symbolize the family’s enduring values:  loyalty and honesty. “My grandmother gave her word,” said Fisher, “and her word is sacred to us.”

(This account is based on an article by Scott Farwell published in The Dallas Morning News, Saturday, May 7). 

About Alyce McKenzie

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